Review: J. I. Packer: His Life and Thought

J. I. Packer: His Life and Thought, Alister McGrath. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Summary: An account of the theologian’s faith, life, and theological engagement.

J. I. Packer was one of my personal theological heroes. His impact on my life came primarily through the book Knowing God, which I read during my student days. As a young Christian, I discovered that the chief end of our lives as well as the work of theology is that we know, love, and glorify God, and not just know about him. The first time through, I read a few pages at a time, stopped, reflected, and prayed in wonder at the greatness, majesty, holiness, and love of God. It is one of those books I’ve re-read several times. I only heard Packer speak once, giving a series of lectures on revival in Ann Arbor, contrasting Jonathan Edwards and Charles Finney, along with an exposition of Psalm 85 as a prayer for revival. The talks were marked by precision of thought and warmth of devotion.

Reading this account of the life and thought of Packer by Alister McGrath, I came to understand that the qualities I appreciated in his lectures and his books reflected his central passion for theological education and catechesis for the good of the church. McGrath traces this thread through his books and thought and his career first in Bristol, then Oxford, then briefly again at Bristol, and finally at Regent in Canada. In fact, McGrath alternates chapters on his life with ones on aspects of his theological work.

He recounts Packer’s early life, his spiritual awakening and early embrace of the theology of the fathers and their ancient wisdom. He describes the relationship with D. Martyn Lloyd Jones and the development of the Puritan Studies Conferences, and their later falling out. At Tyndale Hall in Bristol, Packer comes into his own as a “theological educationalist.” This period marked Packer’s early efforts in publishing, centered around the editorial work on the first edition of The New Bible Dictionary and his first book on Fundamentalism and the Word of God. McGrath includes marvelous material here on how Packer’s devotional life fed both his pastoral and theological work.

Packer’s return to Oxford in the 1960’s as Warden of Latimer House came at a time of ferment within Anglican evangelicalism. McGrath features Packer’s marvelous reply to Bishop Robinson’s Honest to God, the crisis in 1966 with Lloyd Jones leading to the cooling of their relationship and the Keele conference of 1967 defining an evangelical presence within Anglicanism. A key focus in Packer’s thought is theology for the life of the church. After this conference, Packer became convinced that it was time to move on from Latimer. He returned to take up the leadership of Tyndale Hall in a time of crisis leading to a merger creating Trinity College, with him no longer as principal. Time for writing led to a series of articles that became Knowing God.

One of the personal highlights of McGrath’s account was reading about James Sire’s visit with Packer and offer to acquire the U.S. rights of the book for InterVarsity Press, through which the book came into the hands of this young college student and many others becoming one of IVP’s all-time best selling works. By the 1977 Nottingham Conference, however, it became apparent that Packer was increasingly out of step with the younger evangelicals in England. This opened the door to Canada, and Regent College, and the opportunities for Packer to more fully pursue his ideas of theological education for the church, which he did as faculty and in retirement until his death in 2020.

One of the fascinating aspects developed by McGrath is Packer’s conservatism with an irenic streak. Packer was committed to the idea “test everything; hold onto the good.” He believe the good traditions of the past could deliver us from the idiosyncrasies of the present, all under the authority of the Bible. Hence his emphasis on the Reformers and Puritan studies. This put him at variance with others, particularly at two points: the ministry of women and his views of eternal punishment. Yet he also join the Evangelicals and Catholics Together initiative, finding the places of common ground while delineating theological difference with clarity. It strikes me you needed someone like Packer to do this to avoid making a theological hash of the whole affair.

McGrath has given us a wonderful summary of the life and thought of Packer. Indeed, we see how what Packer thought shaped how he lived. Packer believed in theological education as not merely an academic exercise but as existing for the strengthening of the church in the knowledge of God. McGrath helps us see how the whole trajectory of Packer’s life was shaped by these commitments. It also leaves me two questions to ponder. One is, amid a changing world, what must be conserved? The second is, amid the powerful and competing influences of our culture, how might we carry forward Packer’s commitment to catechesis, the formation of Christians in thought, word, and deed?

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Sinless Flesh

Sinless Flesh: A Critique of Karl Barth’s Fallen Christ, Rafael Nogueira Bello. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020.

Summary: Drawing upon the doctrines of inseparable operations, grace of union and habitual grace, and original sin, argues against the contention of Barth and Torrance that the Son of God assumed fallen human flesh in the Incarnation.

You probably never discussed this question in Sunday school: was the human nature assumed by the Son of God sinless or fallen? We may have discussed this in seminary, but if so, it made no impression on me. Nevertheless, it distinguishes two giants of the twentieth century, Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance from most theologians in church history including Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin.

The author of this monograph argues that Barth and Torrance get it wrong. He doesn’t see this as heresy because both affirm the orthodox convictions that Christ was without sin and the relation of the two natures in one person. However, he would argue that this proposal has impact upon trinitarian relation, weakens the orthodox understanding of the hypostatic union of the two natures, and reflects a flawed understanding of original since with implications as to how Christ can act as the second Adam on our behalf.

Bello draws upon three doctrines to highlight the deficiencies in the idea of the Son of man assuming a fallen nature or what is considered non assumptus. First, the doctrine of inseparable operations is the idea that all three persons of the Trinity act as one. The assumption of a fallen nature would require separate operations of the Spirit to perfect what is effected by the Father and Son. Likewise in orthodox theology, the grace of union precedes habitual grace in the life of the incarnate Son. This is reversed in Barth and Torrance involves a growth in grace before the grace of union but raises questions about the hypostatic union of these natures if one grows into union with the other. Finally, the non assumptus view reflects a defective view of original sin. If, as is held in post-Calvin Reformed theology, original sin includes original guilt (that all of us sinned in Adam and are therefore guilty with him, then assuming a fallen nature means assuming Adam’s guilt and raises the question of whether Christ can act as the second Adam through whom we are made righteous (Romans 5:19).

Bello makes a strong case if one accepts the logical inferences drawn in his theological discussion. My hunch is that Barth and Torrance would not accept these inferences. At the beginning of this monograph, Bello quotes Gregory of Nazianzus, who in another context stated, “that which He has not assumed He has not healed.” He sees Barth and Torrance applying this idea to the fallen human nature. I fail to be convinced by Bello’s argument that a Son who had assumed a sinless human nature could “learn obedience” and be like us in all ways except for sin. It seems that one who bears Adam’s guilt without recapitulating Adam’s sin but rather bear’s humanity’s sin and Adamic guilt is truly the second Adam whose obedience makes the many righteous.

What my challenge is, being new to this discussion, is thinking through his argument. Does non-assumptus necessarily compromise inseparable operations? Does non-assumptus jeopardize our understanding of the hypostatic union of the two natures. Does original sin imply original guilt (which Calvin did not affirm)? And even so, does this call into question Christ’s fitness to serve as the second Adam? Bello makes a careful and rigorous argument deserving careful consideration. It both made me think, but also reflect on how what we believe about one thing has implications for other matters. I am also grateful for the irenic spirit of Bello’s argument. Difference is not always heresy, and one’s perception of a real weakness in the thought of another does not, for this scholar, diminish his respect for the substantial contribution of Barth and Torrance to the theological enterprise. All in all, this is a fine monograph and I look forward to further theological writing from this scholar!

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Holiness

Holiness, John Webster. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003

Summary: A theology of holiness, beginning with holiness in the theological enterprise and then thinking about the holiness of God, the church, and the individual.

Many treatments of the theme of holiness either focus on or begin with the holiness of God. John Webster takes what seems to me a novel, but important approach and begins with the holiness of theology. That is, he considers “A Christian theology of holiness is an exercise of holy reason.” He begins with a critique of modernity’s idea of “natural reason” as “transcendent, ignoring the noetic effects of the fall. He argues in the doing of theology, this exercise of holy reason is critical:

“Christian theology is a particular instance of reason’s holiness. Here too–as in all truthful thinking–we are to trace what happens as reason is transformed by the judging, justifying, and sanctifying work of the Triune God. The sanctification of reason, moreover, involves a measure of difference: reason’s transformation goes hand-in-hand with non-conformity. Holy reason is eschatological reason, reason submitting to the process of the renewal of all things as sin and falsehood are set aside, idolatry is reproved, and the new creation is confessed with repentance and delight” (pp. 11-12).

Webster then turns to three aspects of holiness in scripture: the holiness of God, of the church, and of the individual. Beginning with the holiness of God, Webster considers the holiness of God as triune: Father, Son, and Spirit, holy in all God’s attributes and works. This holiness is evidenced in the establishing of holy relationships with his people, redeemed to be holy through the Triune God’s initiative.

He then turns to the church, described as a sanctorum communio. He grounds the holiness of the church in the electing, reconciling, and perfecting work of God, a theme of the grace of God in the holiness of the people of God that runs through this book. This holiness is evident in all of the church’s actions as they confess the name of the Triune God.

Finally, he discusses the holiness of the Christian. Here, too, holiness from beginning to end is the work of the Trinity, likewise in electing, reconciling and perfecting. This is through faith, both in death to sin and renewal of life expressed in freedom, obedience, and love, toward the end of fellowship with God.

Each section begins with a set of propositions which Webster unpacks in a treatment which, though concise is an eloquent and deep exploration of holiness. It reflects a Reformed vision that roots holiness in God’s gracious initiative. This is a slim book worthy of more than one reading and a good introduction to the work of a fine theologian.

Review: Original Sin and the Fall

Original Sin and the Fall (Spectrum Multiview Books), edited by J. B. Stump and Chad Meister. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Summary: An overview of five different views of original sin and the fall, with responses by each contributor to the other views.

Christians have traditionally believed that the first human beings enjoyed “original righteousness.” They were sinless and able not to sin. Then sin entered the world through Adam and Eve and has tainted all human beings such that only God can overcome our “fallen” condition through Christ. This “taint” is what is understood as original sin. Beyond this broad explanation, Christians have disagreed on many of the specifics of this doctrine. Does original sin entail original guilt? Are humans, even under prevenient grace, able to contribute anything to their salvation? With the greater, but hardly universal acceptance of evolution, how are we to understand the Genesis accounts of original sin?

This volume explores all these questions. Proponents of five views that reflect a broad spectrum of Christian thought contribute to this discussion:

Hans Madueme sets forth the traditional Reformed-Augustinian view, affirming original sin and original guilt with death and the judgment of God following, irrespective of our acts.

Oliver Crisp represents a modified Reformed view in basic agreement with the Reformed position except for not affirming original guilt.

Joel Green speaks for the Wesleyan view which affirms original sin but holds the individual guilty for only their own sins and sees sin not only as depravity but also disease.

Andrew Louth, a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy describes the Eastern Orthodox understanding, which stresses ancestral rather than original sin and focus not on fall and redemption but the arc from creation to deification, within which this sin occurs.

Tatha Wiley speaks for a reconceived view, drawing upon Catholic theologian Bernard Lonergan. Original sin is reconceived as a failure of authenticity, a failure to act upon what one rationally understands. We stand in need of intellectual, moral, and religious conversions. She advocates for a new approach contending biblical accounts reflect a pre-scientific view of the world and modern advances require a different formulation.

Each contributor responds to all the others. Each is gracious to the others, distinguishing their own from other views without polemics. The editors briefly introduce the discussion and then step out of the way.

A few observations. Madueme offers a statement of the Reformed position at its best and not a caricature. Crisp, while I think the best in framing his views seems a bit of a compromise–halfway between Reformed and Wesleyan, not quite either. Joel Green’s distinctive contribution is as a biblical rather than systematic theologian. He offers an interesting discussion on what Genesis 1-3 and other texts say and don’t say about original sin. Louth, rooting his work in the Eastern fathers speaks from a different framework, focused more on the arc of creation to theosis than focusing on sin. Here the focus is rather on death. Wiley’s was the least familiar to me and seems untethered from the biblical accounts. Further, while engaging science, as Crisp notes, she does not explain “what compelling reasons there are for the kind of doctrinal reconstruction she advocates.”

The discussion helps us to understand the interconnected nature of Christian doctrine, how our understanding of God, our anthropology, our soteriology, and eschatology all connect. I’m reminded of the pressing questions I’ve been asked by those of exploring faith of how we can be held responsible for Adam’s sin, or even our own sinful nature from birth. We see different ways of answering that may offer better language and explanations. This is a valuable adjunct to any study of systematic theology.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Breadth of Salvation

The Breadth of Salvation, Tom Greggs. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020.

Summary: An exploration of the extravagant breadth of God’s saving work in all of its dimensions.

The work of the theologian has often been described as “thinking great thoughts of God.” This concise work does just that in regard to thinking about the breadth of God’s saving work, that we often limit with our models and distinctions and limited perspectives.

Greggs begins by considering our models and images of Christ’s saving work on the cross. He reminds us that it is Christ and not a particular model or interpretation who saves. He also refuses to either dispense with or reduce his understanding of the work of the cross to a particular model or image. He lists these all and describes them as a feast, as a buffet from which he hopes to enjoy all.

He then turns to the breadth of salvation in the society of God, the church. We often think of salvation in personal terms, and in vertical terms in relation to God. But God has saved a people, dealing not only with our alienation from God, but also from others. He considers the breadth of the Holy Spirit’s work in reconciling people to each other across all our differences.

He goes a step further to explore the grace of God to the world. He specifically excludes universalism, but also emphasizes the grace of God over human actions, seeing the latter as responses to grace which comes in a variety of ways, and often to those who seem the least deserving or likely. He reminds us of the breadth of human sinfulness–for all of us, and that assurance comes in the act of repentance, as we find rest in the pardon of God and not anything we have done.

This leads him to address further the specific matter of repentance. He observes that the priority is on repentance as turning to Christ rather than from sin. He observes the welcome of Jesus to tax collectors and sinners. I’m reminded of the story of Zacchaeus. Jesus decides he must eat with him leading Zacchaeus to extravagant reparations for all his tax gouging. In both this chapter and the last, he explores the question both in the gospels and our present day of who is on the inside, and who on the outside. He invites us all to humility and wonder at the breadth of our salvation.

It may be that some are laboring under uncertainty with regard to their own salvation, whether they have believed properly or done the right things. It may be that we have focused too much on being reconciled to God and failed to recognize how God has saved a people reconciled to each other. It may be that we have drawn lines between who is inside, who is outside. Greggs offers encouragement to all of the wonderful fullness of salvation transcending our fears and doubts, our narrow perspectives and the lines we draw between who is “in” and who is “out.”

Some might criticize this work for universalism. I see nothing of God forcing his grace on the unwilling. Rather, I understood this work as an invitation to leave the boundaries to God, to extend the extravagant breadth of Christ’s work without distinction, allowing Christ to call whom he wills to repentance and faith. I understand this as an invitation to think great thoughts of a great God’s great salvation.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Approaching the Atonement

Approaching the Atonement

Approaching the AtonementOliver D. Crisp. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Summary: A study of different models of the atonement, explaining and critiquing each model, focusing on the “mechanism” of atonement, the issue of violence, and the author’s own preferred approach.

The atonement. This is the idea that Christ’s died for our sin and thus made possible reconciliation with God. The question that has arisen throughout Christian history is how Christ’s death accomplishes that reconciling work. What is the “mechanism” of atonement? What are the different models that have been held through history and how do they differ? How to we reconcile the presence or even necessity of violence in these models with a loving God? Are there ways that the models compatible that might point to a greater whole?

This slim volume offers a survey of different models of the atonement formulated throughout history, clear explanations of each, critiques and possible responses of each, and how these models might be relate to each other. He begins with patristic accounts of the atonement, those of Irenaeus and Athanasius. He then turns to the ransom or Christus Victor accounts, Anselm’s satisfaction account, moral exemplarism proposed through history from Abelard to John Hick, versions of the penal substitutionary, governmental and vicarious penitence doctrines, approaches that may be described as “mash-ups” or “kaleidoscopic.” Amid the discussion, the author takes a chapter to discuss the problem of atoning violence implicit in several of these models. He concludes with a recent proposal, the union or participation proposal that he favors.

Several aspects of this book make it an ideal introduction to discussions on the atonement. One is the conciseness and clarity of Crisp’s explanation of each model, including distinguishing between variants on a model, like versions of penal substitution that focus alternatively on the substitute taking punishment in place of the guilty versus taking on the penal consequences of sin, but not the actual punishment. He also offers helpful discussions of atoning violence, including an emphasis that the atonement was accomplished by the Triune God, not setting Father against Son in ways that separate the unity of the three-personed God. He also explores the double effect response and the distinction between atonement proper, and crucifixion, which are often conflated.

He uses memorable images in his discussion, such as the idea of “one theory to rule them all,” most often in reference to penal substitution, referencing a classic article by recently deceased J.I. Packer that also serves as an example of a “mashup” approach that recognize various models as aspects or facets of the atonement. His discussion of moral exemplarism is an example, where in critique he observes the lack of a mechanism of atonement, raising the question of the necessity of Christ’s death, but also observes that exemplarism is an element, or implication of most models. Likewise, older models, such as the early models of Athanasius, and the satisfaction of approach of Anselm, are treated as far more formidable and important than often credited in modern treatments. His concluding treatment of union or participatory approaches most associated with Michael J. Gorman, suggest this may be a way forward, both drawing upon other models and drawing heavily on the biblical material of the corporate aspects of fallen and redeemed humanity as significant to the mechanism of atonement.

What marks this work is its even-handed discussion of the various models, focusing both on strengths and criticisms for each, understanding each in the context they were first framed. Contrary to the “rhetorical flourish” approach that many who respond to critiques of atoning violence, he shows how these are often question begging and tries to approach this in a way that takes the issue seriously. Each chapter provides a bibliography, and the book concludes with a more extensive bibliography of the literature. Crisp offers a scholarly introduction to contemporary discussions of the atonement that serves as a syllabus for more in depth study on this central doctrine of Christian faith.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

Theology I Would Re-read

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Theology books I would re-read. Photo © Bob Trube, 2020. 

I read quite a few theology books, which may be odd for some. All I can say is that if one believes, according to the Westminster Confession that “the chief end of human beings (“man” in the generic form) is to worship God and enjoy Him forever,” then it seems a worthy form of reading to explore the excellency of God, and how we might joyfully relate to this God. No offense if you see things differently, though the question of “chief end” is one we all must answer. Here is some of the theology, I would re-read. In fact, some of these I have re-read.

Garwood Anderson, Paul’s New Perspective. There has been much discussion of the “new perspective” on Paul. This careful study of Paul’s writings explores the possibility of development in Paul’s understanding, offering warrant for both “traditional” and “new” perspectives.

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion.  One of the best summers I ever spent including working through these two volumes, marveling at one who loved God so deeply and reasoned so carefully.

Daniel L. Hawk, The Violence of the Biblical God. This is the best book I’ve read on the troubling Old Testament passages that connect Israel’s violence with God. Hawk allows for the disturbing complexity of the biblical witness that explores the messiness of God who is both in but not of the ancient Near Eastern world of Israel.

Matthew Levering, Dying and the Virtues. A probing exploration of the biblical virtues by which we live–and die. He revives the ancient pastoral conversation on what it means to make a good end to our lives.

J. I. Packer, Knowing God. No single book played a greater role in opening my eyes to the greatness of God and the joy of knowing Him. This was one to be read a few pages at a time. I’ve done so several times.

Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity. The shortest book in the collection, but no less rich in its insights into the mystery of the Triune nature of God.

Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion. I spent Lent last year reading this work, leaving me in wonder at the death of the Son of God.

James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom. Smith challenges the notion that all we need to do is get people to believe the right things. His theology of what it means to be human is to be desiring creatures, and that we believe what we practice, that “thick” practices shape our spiritual affections.

John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ. For many years, I was part of a reading group called the Dead Theologians Society. After reading this work together, one of our participants remarked that this was the best book we had read (in a group that had read Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Barth, and many others). Stott, with his typical clarity of expression and insight, sets forth the work of the cross, and his defense of substitution, not so popular nowadays, with depth and concision.

N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God. This is an absolutely magnificent study of the idea of the resurrection in “second temple” Judaism and the surrounding culture, and the evidences for the physical resurrection of Jesus.

One of the things all these works have in common is that they are works of conviction, that pulse with the passion for God of the authors, that elevates them from our image of theology as a dry and dusty discipline. There are many others that I could have added and I’d love to hear of those you would re-read. It’s just possible that I might choose to read them for the first time. I always love a book recommendation that says, “I would read it again.” In the area of theology, that tells me that the author has moved beyond the commonplace nostrums to a personal knowledge of the God of whom they write.

 

Review: Experiencing God

experiencing God

Experiencing God (Inner Land – Volume 3), Eberhard Arnold. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2020.

Summary: What it means for us to truly experience the greatness of God and the peace of God.

Many of us long for a deeper experience of God and peace in our lives. Eberhard Arnold, in this third volume of the Inner Land series, proposes that there is a far deeper and richer experience of God for believers than we reckon, but that this calls for far more of us, really all of us.

This work is broken into two parts: “experiencing God” and “the peace of God.” The first part explores how we may enter into a deep experience of God. It all begins with God drawing near to us, inviting us to escape judgment and know forgiveness, to know both his greatness and our smallness. He considers how God discloses himself in creation and guides history. As we trust in Christ we come to new life, and the inner life brings change in our love for others under the saving grace of God, leading to the just community and continuing renewal. Above all, we experience the strength of God for all of our life.

Peace is so much more than an inner experience of tranquility. It is both unity and justice; it is constructive work. It is rooted in God’s truth, frees us to serve, and demands purity. The unity of peace among the people of God can be expected to evoke opposition. Hardness toward peace leads to the judgment of war. Striking here is the development of the peace ethic of the early Christians in contrast to both abortion and the amassing of wealth in the culture around them, a culture of war. At the heart of it all, Jesus is our peace.

Reading Eberhard is best done slowly and meditatively. His sentences do the work of paragraphs, and paragraphs the work of chapters in many books. One example:

   God begins–that is the end for man. When in fear and trembling we know God and are known by him, God is drawing near to us in person. When the Most High descends to us, the degraded, he tears away all cloaks and barriers. God is revealed only through this fearful experience. When we experience God, we appear before him as we are. As long as we shrink from being exposed for what we are, from God’s unhindered recognition of us, we remain lost and helpless, overwhelmed by the superior power of the external world. As long as we submit to things as they are and remain their slaves, terror of God repels us and keeps us at a distance (p.5).

So much here. God’s approach, the fearsomeness of knowing and being known, the choice between vulnerability and enslavement. No sentimental, inspirational writing here but the truth we desperately need and often resist. The choice between a hard-won peace and unity, and the discord and war that surround us. Arnold offers us the vital, uncompromising substance of truth in every sentence, every paragraph and page rather than innocuous “inspiring thoughts.”

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Paul’s Idea of Community

paul's idea of community

Paul’s Idea of Community (3rd Edition), Robert J. Banks. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020.

Summary: A study of how Paul understood the nature of community in the churches he planted, considered against the cultural backgrounds of first century AD Greco-Roman culture.

No writer of scripture has contributed more to our understanding of the nature of the church and the practices of Christian community than Paul. Yet we often read into Paul our own culture, resulting in our missing the cultural context in which Paul worked and how his writings addressed early believers in that culture. Robert J. Banks has devoted scholarly attention to this topic since the first edition of this volume in 1994. Now, he offers us an updated version of this work, drawing on the most recent research, reflected in an updated bibliography, and a additional appendix, offering a “narrative exegesis” of Paul in a fictional account of a visit to an early house church gathering.

He sets the early Christian movement in the context of other contemporary religions and emperor worship, as well as the social structures of the Roman world. He then discusses the distinctive character of Paul’s idea of Christian freedom–a freedom lived for others. In companion chapters, Banks describes the work setting in which house churches often existed, in a building with a shopfront where business was done, and gatherings in family quarters either in the back or in an “upper room,” and then the heavenly setting. He considers community in the context of the loving family household, calling attention to Paul’s use of family terminology, and the organic reality inherent in the use of “body” imagery.

The chapter on mutual learning and testing of faith was especially valuable, I thought, because of its focus of the knowledge element of faith. In a time focused on praxis, Banks reminds us how much the language of thinking and knowledge and testing is found in Paul’s writing. He shows how this informs faith, hope, and love, and distinguishes Paul’s use of “knowledge” from that of the mystery cults, stoics, cynics, and Judaism.

He considers the practical expressions of fellowship from baptism, to laying on hands, sharing of possessions and holy kisses, and especially the common meal, bringing people together from across the social classes of the day. He offers a trenchant analysis of Paul’s use of spiritual gift language and the configurations of their usage holding together the tension of grace and order. Diversity extends beyond gifts to gender, race, and class, and Banks shows the radical ways the early Christian movement overcame these distinctions in the practice of equality, albeit allowing for functional diversity. This equality eliminates distinctions between priests and laity, between officials and ordinary members, and between the holy and the common. Leadership is defined instead by function and not position. Banks argues here that the laying on of hands was not an “ordination” imparting a special grace but rather the recognition of congregational discernment in prayer and fellowship.

The last four chapters explore the relationship of “missioners” like Paul and his diverse companions to the church, a body sharing in partnership with that mission. He describes how Paul exercises his authority in relation to the other apostles and through both authoritative teaching and service. It is curious that Banks’ treatment of the Pastorals is relegated to an appendix, representing a deferral to scholarship that classifies these as “disputed.” He leaves the question for the reader to decide, noting both continuities and discontinuities and development from Paul’s thought.

Every chapter has been the subject of numerous books and monographs. What Banks accomplishes is to offer a comprehensive overview with both scholarly depth and the concision valuable for pastoral theologians who want to ground practice in solid biblical and sociocultural studies.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Spiritual Warfare

Spiritual Warfare, William F. Cook III and Chuck Lawless (Foreword by Thom Rainer). Nashville: B & H Academic, 2019.

Summary: A biblical and theological survey of all the passages in the Bible concerning Satan and spiritual warfare and practical applications for the life of the church.

William Cook and Chuck Lawless make both a biblical and practical case for the reality of spiritual warfare, the personal forces of evil who seek to undermine and oppose the life of followers of Christ, as well as keep in darkness those who have not come to faith. In this work they provide a comprehensive guide for believers to understanding the warfare we are in the midst of.

First of all, they survey all the relevant Old and New Testament that refer to Satan and his forces and spiritual warfare. They provide concise explanations of each passage, offering different readings of difficult passages like 1 Peter 3:18-22, and giving their own interpretation. From the early chapters of Genesis to the last chapters of Revelation, they give the account of Satan’s efforts to oppose the purposes of God from the temptation of the Adam and Eve to the final defeat and destruction of Satan. What they make clear is that while the forces of darkness deceive and tempt and oppose, human sin is our own willful disobedience to God. What is fascinating is that the New Testament portion of this survey is four times as long as the Old Testament, particularly with the testing of Jesus, the confrontations with demons throughout the gospels and Acts, the spiritual opposition aroused as the church moves into the Gentile world, and the warfare of the book of Revelation of the dragon and the beast against the people of God and the final defeat of Satan.

The second half of the book draws on this material and applies this to our personal and corporate lives as believers. They begin with how spiritual warfare manifests in the local church, defining both the pillars of a healthy church and the lines of attack on each of these. They speak of the warfare against evangelism, blinding unbelievers to truth and rendering believers ineffective through sin, discouragement, pride, and fear that shuts our mouths. They talk about the remedy of prayer for “GOD’S HEART” (an acronym). They extend this line of discussion into mission and the disinterest, division, and distraction that needs to be countered with teaching and humble dependence. They look at attacks on the family and conclude with the warfare against leaders, addressing why many finish badly. Since many who read this book are likely to be leaders, this is one chapter not to be skipped but to be read, to be used in self-examination and spiritual accountability.

Over and over throughout this book, the authors focus on the dangers of pride, self-reliance, divisions between believers, and biblical illiteracy. At the same time, the authors emphasize the greatness of God, the victory of Christ, and the power of the Spirit, all enabling believers to overcome and prevail by faith.

This book is a useful source book for anyone teaching on spiritual warfare, combining a thorough survey of scripture with practical applications grounded in years of pastoral experience. It steers a healthy balance that both recognizes the reality of spiritual warfare, and the reality that, in the victory of the cross and resurrection, Satan and his forces have been decisively defeated and the believer provided with all he or she needs for life and godliness.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.